Raising funds for the Community Centre
Interrupting an incredibly challenging morning, I find myself embroiled in an e-mail exchange with Perry Wu from ChinaTechNews.com over this whole WVAS business. Perry is still of the opinion that WVAS providers in China are as doomed trailer parks in Tornado Alley, while I see somewhere between three and six WVAS providers potentially thriving following a round of consolidation and the issuance of 3G licenses.
(And, by the way, I prefer wireless VASPs as an abbreviation. It’s easier to say and it sounds like my great-grandmother referring to the people in Pasadena who wouldn’t let people us join their clubs.)
The reason I say “potentially” thriving is because the only way they’re going to trump the power of – and competition from – the operators is by stepping up and creating bouquets of must-have services, especially for 3G networks.
One reader – rather defensively – recently asked if I’d suggest a few such services, as they felt the services the wireless VASPs are offering are “must have” services.
So here is my current – but not definitive – list of what I would say are services people would pay for.
1. PunterPhone – A Real-Time Stock Portfolio system offering domestic markets with an add-on service to permit real-time share trading, thus liberating legions of Chinese day traders from their desks or dingy foyers. (Subscription)
2. FlightCheck – Flight arrival, departure, status, and gate information from the Beijing (or other regional) airport authority. For professional drivers, this would help eliminate the unsavory choice between paying for airport parking or parking along the side of the airport freeway waiting to get a really fat ticket. For drivers making regular trips, this service would be superb – especially with updates by SMS every 10 minutes, or real-time on 3G. (Subscription with support from ads from travel agents and airlines)
3. Official Airline Guide-Mobile Edition and mTicket – in alliance with a large travel agent, allow users to scan flight schedules and order e-tickets to be sent by SMS to a mobile phone. (Subscription plus commission on ticket sales, plus ad revenue)
4. MovieGuide – with trailers, reviews, showtimes, locations, and m-ticketing. Yeah, there are only 3000 cinemas in China, but that’s set to grow, and more people would go to movies if they had this information close at hand. (Commission on ticket sales and ad revenue)
5. Mobile Yellow Pages – let’s face it, it’s well past time that we had a constantly updated guide to businesses in a given city. It would be a huge money-maker (via ads) for the wireless VASP and the operator. If the Donnelly people were smart, they’d build the business here – they already know how to sell the ads, and they could hook it up with a printed version. (Ad supported, possible click-through revenue stream)
5a. Mobile Yellow Pages English Edition – Xianzai or THAT’s could brand this. How many times have I been looking for a restaurant and cursed the fact I didn’t have access to Xianzai or have a copy of THAT’s in my bag? (Ad revenues with click-through)
6. Zagat Mobile – A dynamically updated guide to the better restaurants of all of China’s cities. Defaults to the city you are in, but you can switch to other cities based on subscription options. (Annual subscription)
7. Fodor’s Mobile/Lonely Planet Mobile – Phone based guides to the city or country of your choice, with in depth information on locations updated by guide editors AND moderated input from users. (One-time purchase/annual subscription)
8. Audiobooks – If you can do music, you can do audiobooks, and China’s self-improvement wave is only just beginning to form. Business, personal finance, memoirs, and fiction should do well here. (One-time purchase)
9. TrafficWatch with FastPath – Despite the proliferation of ring-roads and eight-lane arteries, traffic is getting so bad in many cities (Beijing worst of all) that one wag I spoke to is starting to call Chinese cities “construction sites surrounded by parking lots.” Yes, there are too many cars for our wagon roads, but if people had a better way to know what they were looking at on the roads, life would get a lot easier. TrafficWatch would not only show those areas where backups and gridlock were occuring, it could give estimated transit times from one point to another. FastPath would be an add-on service designed to calculate which route to your destination (based on current conditions and recorded patterns) that would give you the quickest ride. Maybe it would be the road you’re on, but at least you’d know. (Annual subscription)
10. mToll – Ever envy those Army and Wujing vehicles that whisk past the tollbooths without so much as tapping on the brakes? mToll would use a cellular signal (made possible by GPS and 3G’s “always connected” feature) to make an automatic payment 100-200 meters before you reached the gate. If it didn’t work, you would have time to slow. Otherwise – go right through. No more fumbling for change, just a monthly add-on to your cellular bill. (Phone-bill add-on)
11. mTransit – The inexorable privatization of the bus and transit lines in China is going to put mounting pressure on those operations to start doing things more efficiently. The first candidates to go – all of those ladies taking money and tearing tickets. Automating rapid transit will certainly mean automated ticket machines, but they should mean multi-modal transit passes (akin to Hong Kong’s Octopus Card). Putting the pass information on the phone’s SIM card rather than producing and selling cards – especially using a contactless system, makes great economic sense, and it’s one thing less to worry about sticking in your pocket before going out. (Monthly or per-use pre-pay)
12. Homecheck – For people who want to make sure the maid hasn’t breached the safe, or just check on the kids, the service sends a live video signal from a password-accessed web camera to the phone’s screen. (Monthly subscription)
13. mBidder (eBay & Taobao) – Auction sites are getting hotter, and Chinese consumers won’t want to sit around at their desks and watch their bids. The solution – a mobile application that monitors their bids and allows them to bid as needed. (Monthly subscription or per-transaction).
There is a separate list of enterprise services, as well. But you get the point.